Elections set amid mass misery in Haiti

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians face growing misery in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Meanwhile, the U.S. military has decided to turn over its relief efforts to civilian authorities in Haiti.

The hurricane destroyed tens of thousands of homes on Oct. 4. Many that it didn’t completely flatten had their tin roofs torn off or were left with more holes than material. Then, three days and nights of torrential rain followed the winds.

The extent of the devastation in Haiti was summed up by a journalist who made a quick trip along the southwest coast: All that remains of many seaside villages is their name. The city of Jérémie, the largest population center in the southwest, has been compared to Berlin at the end of World War II when that city was flattened by bombs.

Despite this misery, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Peter Mulrean released a statement published in the Nouvelliste, a major Haitian newspaper on Oct. 29, explaining that “transportation was improving in the areas ravaged by Hurricane Matthew and a robust humanitarian response has developed.”

Beginning on Oct. 6, the U.S. had 12 helicopters, split between CH-53 Sea Stallions and CH-47 Chinooks, two Coast Guard cutters and two naval vessels to handle logistics. There were a few hundred Marines assigned to the operation, which Mulrean claimed cost $20 million.

A few days before the U.S. withdrew its militarized aid to Haiti, Jocelerme Privert, Haiti’s interim president, spoke in Ouanaminthe, a city in northeast Haiti, near the Dominican border, at the opening of a new maquiladora plant in an industrial site organized by the Clinton Foundation.

Privert said at that time there were 169 communities still not reachable by land. Almost all the schools in Haiti’s southwest were destroyed or badly damaged. The ones that survived are filled with people who lost their homes.

Besides the rain, hunger is a big problem. Many people in southwest Haiti depended on their farms for food. Now they have lost their harvest: corn, bananas and coconuts.

A Haitian web service (hougansydney.com) reported that cops and the United Nations’ occupation force, Minustah, fired on a crowd that was stampeding to get first aid supplies from a Colombian ship in Dame Marie. One young girl was killed by a bullet to the chest.

An Oct. 24 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report points out that most fishing gear — boats, nets, traps, docks — was destroyed, so the income and protein sources supplied by fishing are not currently available. It also points out that the seeds for winter crops normally planted in November were destroyed.

The U.N. Minustah occupation force introduced cholera into Haiti six years ago after a devastating earthquake. The disease has killed nearly 10,000 people and sickened 800,000. Now, cholera has become an even more serious problem following Matthew and the rain.

How serious can be seen in Randel, a town in the southwest that is an arduous four-hour hike from the nearest paved road and only accessible by mule or helicopter. Three hundred people have died there from cholera since Matthew. Randel’s cholera clinic is overflowing and has run out of beds and needles for intravenous fluid replacement. But people from the surrounding communities are still bringing in patients, too sick to walk, on their backs.

Elections reset for Nov. 20

Elections were scheduled for Oct. 9, but since hurricane damage would have prevented at least a third of all Haitians from voting then, the Provisional Electoral Council reset the elections for Nov. 20.

The 2015 election was so obviously fraudulent that its results were discarded. It is still not clear if all the voting venues will be repaired in time for the Nov. 20 vote. The Haitian government is pushing for tents and temporary structures. It is not clear if transportation needed for the distribution of ballots will be in place.

There is a lot of political maneuvering. On Oct. 19, Haiti’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, requested the replacement of Jocelerme Privert as interim president since his time in office has expired. On Oct. 20, Ambassador Mulrean issued a statement supporting the Haitian government regarding the elections and disaster relief.

Mulrean has made it very clear that the U.S. supports Privert and his government. This was so from the first days of the crisis, when he made sure Privert was on the Coast Guard overflight of the devastated areas, to more recent days.

Hillary Clinton, secretary of state in 2011, was even more assertive when she person­ally imposed Michel Martelly as a candidate and then as president in May 2011.